Building a Consulting brand for Gender Diversity

Ash Navaratnam, Founder & CEO – Genovate Consulting.

A Sri Lankan born Australian who grew up in a family of successful entrepreneurs, Ash spent her first 17 years in Sri Lanka going to prestigious International Schools before moving to Australia to study a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney. Entrepreneurship was always in her blood and starting her own business was never far from her mind.

Building a career in recruitment that spans over 10 years, Ash worked with some of the leading recruitment firms in Sydney and Melbourne. Having worked in both agency environment and RPO for Futurestep, Ash learnt the full scope of the recruitment world. Ash worked for leading Multinational organisations onsite as part of their recruitment teams, and quickly learnt that there was a need for strong female leadership candidates. Realising a gap in the market, the idea was born. And it wasn’t until the birth of her second child, that Ash decided to do something she was always passionate about — the recruitment of women to promote gender diversity and so Genovate Consulting was born in May 2015.

Genovate Consulting is a specialist recruitment business in Australia focused on the recruitment of only women into leadership roles to promote gender diversity in Organisations.

Ash is the proud wife of 8 years to businessman and chartered accountant husband and mother to a 5 years old son and 2 year old daughter. She enjoys spending time with her family, eating out, travelling and having good wine! Ash shares insights from her entrepreneurial journey with Team ABT, see below

Who is your greatest inspiration and why?

My greatest Inspiration is Sheryl Sandberg. Sheryl is a strong female role model who inspired me to start Genovate Consulting. Sheryl Sandberg has influenced people around the world to start conversations around gender inequality and the effects it has on organisations that choose not to have a gender diverse workforce. Her book ‘Lean In’ was instrumental in helping me get Genovate Consulting started. -‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” She has helped millions of women around the world to ‘Lean In’ to their career, recognising unconscious bias and the impact of family support on working mothers.

“A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.” Sheryl SandbergLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

I am also very inspired by Susie Babani — Global Chief HR Officer of ANZ Bank. Susie is a passionate advocate for gender diversity and has been instrumental in sparking cultural change and implementing change at ANZ and as a result on the broader industry.

Tell us more about Genovate Consulting and its reach so far.
Genovate Consulting is a recruitment consulting and executive search business in Australia specialising in improving gender diversity in the workforce through the recruitment and placement of only female candidates into Leadership, Management and Board roles. The roles we recruit for are anything from a leader right through to an Executive or Board position and across the Technology/Digital, Banking and Finance and Oil and Energy sectors. We are based in Melbourne with a National presence.

Genovate Consulting is honoured to have been awarded ‘Special Measure’ by the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal in May 2015, which allows us to actively target and recruit only female candidates. ‘ Special Measure’ allows us to recruit only women without it being considered an act of unlawful discrimination highlighting the disparity of females in leadership positions. As far as I am aware we are currently the only recruitment organisation to have been awarded ‘Special Measure’.

We have a team of researchers and recruiters that work with our clients to build a talent pool of female candidates from the passive and active market. Our sourcing strategies include selective targeting, head hunting, networking, referrals and through our database. Currently we have a database of over 2500 female candidates. Our Clients are ASX listed and Fortune 500 Companies that have engaged us to help support their attraction and recruitment gender diversity strategy.

What is that one milestone in your life that makes you happy and proud?
My children and my family— being a wife, and a mum to a beautiful son and daughter makes me the happiest and the proudest milestone to have achieved what I have. It inspires me everyday to do better and work harder to give them the best life.

Genovate Consulting has also been a huge milestone in my life in achieving what I have since I founded the business 18 months ago. The business has grow from strength to strength and I couldn’t be more happier or prouder with what I have achieved.

What is your leadership style?
I believe my leadership style is one that is inclusive and is about leading by example. My leadership style is about showing my team that I am happy to roll my sleeves up and get my hands dirty. I like to create an open door policy and that the culture of the business is about honesty, transparency and integrity. I believe in creating a culture that every employee believes they have voice to contribute to the growth of the business. Celebrating the wins and supporting each other when things don’t go the way you had hoped.

What has been your biggest challenge as a women leader?
I think the biggest challenge I have faced as a woman leader is the expectation we put on ourselves, the expectations by our family, and society in general, about being a mother, running a house and having a career. We are constantly challenged to be able to do it all or not be able to do it all. It is a challenge because we often have to sacrifice either our family life or career and are expected to make a decision, whilst I don’t feel like males have to make the same decision.

I do believe you can have it all, I think it is possible with the support from your partner, family and society. More understanding of family life in workplaces, and Society in general also needs to be more understanding about women wanting to further their careers by giving them the right support and tools. Less bias conscious or unconscious.

If you could do one thing differently, what would that be?
Absolutely nothing! I wouldn’t change anything now. But I would have had a different answer 2 years ago before starting Genovate Consulting.

When I was younger, I started a recruitment business that failed. It failed due to a number of reasons, my immaturity, my lack of knowledge running a business and a start-up, and not having the right support and education around me. It set us back financially and it took a long time to get out of that debt, it impacted our lives in several ways and set me back in my career when I decided to go back to work. For the longest time, it was the biggest regret in my life and I would have given anything to have not made the decision to have started the business.

However, today I am aware of the lessons it taught me and I couldn’t be more grateful for that experience. The experience of having had a failed business or start-up, teaches you so much more than having run a successful one. The lessons I learnt, I am able to apply in my current business and which I feel is why it is able to do so well. It doesn’t mean I don’t still make mistakes though! I just try not to make the same ones!!

What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?
My vision over the next 5 years is for Genovate Consulting to be recognised as the leading consulting brand for gender diversity. I would like the business to have made an impact on ASX listed and Fortune 500 Companies leadership teams by having a more gender diverse leadership team and having helped them achieved their gender diversity targets by 2020.

For women to feel they have a brand that represents them in the market to organisations that will support their lifestyle and continue to grow and develop their career. We are also about to launch our digital platform — which will see companies able to reach out to a contingent or project female workforce to address more flexible work and enable organisations to have more gender diverse project teams. I would like to see this platform go global over the next 5 years.

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